You Hate Journalism? It WAS the Hiring Practice…Stupid.

With the recent passing of Uncle Walter Cronkite–the “most trusted man in America”, some may wonder how his “news-like” descendants have tumbled down to the level of trust wedged somewhere between a used car salesman and a suit coat watch guy in Times Square. To answer this WONDER, we must explore ‘the way it was’ that got Uncle Walt where he did.

Salo Walter Cronkite: “That’s the Way it is” all of a sudden.
In television’s early days, the news departments were considered jokes–radio was the big sha-bang, in similar standing to where television teetered about four years ago this month before the BIG Three, died, left in disgrace and/or walked off into the sunset(is there any other way left to end something?). The TODAY SHOW literally had a Monkey on set. It wasn’t always clear where the news started and the entertainment began(and still isn’t and that’s the way we like it). Mike Wallace hosted some game shows and yes, even Uncle Walt interviewed puppets during his early years at CBS Television News after he came back from the war.

The moment that everyone started to notice Uncle Walt didn’t come minutes before John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In fact, his CBS Evening News had only been expanded to 30 minutes EARLIER that year. So the guy wasn’t an institution at that point and as people have said throughout the week, he wasn’t even the market leader-CHET and David carried that BRINK. There was this ‘over achiever’ Dan Rather you see, who was ‘the first to report JFK’s death” cause it happened in his beloved Texas and then we all know Walt’s hipster glasses thing before they were hip and so a medium and a man were all of a sudden trusted. That’s the way it was all of sudden in a matter of seconds–instant cred.

In the modern era of New Media–a term that’s been with us for over a DECADE NOW, there will be no Walter Cronkite on Twitter, so stop looking, but Twitter could yet be the Walter Cronkite. The reason its taken so long for the New Media to become old is probably connected to the old-timers writing the story at the legacy media having a hard time coming to terms with their oldness–its still NEW to them and it may always be.

For a generation of journalists, they didn’t know or didn’t see a television medium that at first wasn’t taken so seriously–most were like 13 at the time, when JFK died. All they saw was a man who kept being at the right place at the right time competing against 1 and a half competitors when there were only three total(Peter Jennings actually anchored THE NEWS once in the 60s, he was younger than I am right now at the time and %110 more Canadian, he didn’t have a JFK moment and was given the cane only to reinvent himself 12 years later).

What’s significant about Uncle Walt and his leadership, is even though, he and his medium started out humble, because of its magnitude and the way it worked, with one man to watch with that power to “turn the Vietnam war” when about a dozen years earlier he was talking to puppets–you tend to attract obvious characters in such obvious centers of power who don’t realize how power is really built.

La Cruz Uncle Walt-“an institution”, gets axed to make room for 3: Institution becomes ‘institutional’
RTNDA holds blow-out conventions for a generation to follow
And so the next generation of journalists came. They went to their RTNDA conferences centered around their luminaries–a period of broadcast journalists, but more importantly their producers behind the scenes, who focused on names that fit in boxes who were the ones lucky enough to be next to a hurricane or a famous creature or in some ironic cases considering Uncle Walt’s big break–far enough away from Dan Rather. “THIS is the way it IS” they would tell all who applied and the smart ones generally ran in the other direction.

The problems, and thus the raging backlash against the mainstream media, where nowadays most people would rather take the word of someunknownguy @ twitter– than their local news anchors(bleh), are not ones solely born out of a technological revolution–this may just be a red haring. The present business models and customer satisfaction surveys have been dismal for almost a generation now and it happened when these folks were running things into the ground.

Evolution in Media Management Selects for Still-Borns
Journalism, which was once a lunch pale trade in its earlier generations and mediums has long since ceased being a meritocracy. It starts in its closed hiring practices and it goes all the way to who gets ahead once hired and who doesn’t–call it an “unnatural selection” in the evolution of media management. This is not the rule across the board, but in most cases, the failure to secure the business side of the journalism business has everything to do with the insular group of people who keeps getting appointed to manage these properties.

These folks are professional at staying alive on a sinking ship, protecting their lifestyles and making sure they can have someone else answer the phone when their having lunch in midtown because they had to do the same thing when they were their age worshiping Uncle Walt. Coming up with their next product – as is the case in most companies trying to make it in business, let alone the effects the products they’re actually making – may not have ever been after thoughts to these people.

We have also found ourselves with a generation of news managers who have no connection to those who built the industry out of puppets and who only understand the art of self-preservation and entitlement. Unfortunately, the people they’ve trained to take over these storied institutions through a similar ‘dues paying’ game are going to inherit nothing–while Uncle Walt’s passing got coverage this weekend, who will will cover there’s?

Shut Up Blogger, You’ve Had It All Wrong
If you’re a blogger who didn’t get a job in the MSM, you wouldn’t get it — you were never on the inside and when you hurl insults at the MSM without adding any original reporting yourself I don’t respect you for it. Your revolution will not be televised, and its almost as silly as interviewing puppets on a news program.

If you were on the inside, since its so hard to find work, you don’t want to piss off these catty people. I personally don’t have a bone to pick with anyone, and my experience has been mostly one of pleasure. But come on, we’ve all known this has been going on for sometime now and I feel like I’m in a position to speak truth to it where others can’t. There is not a network who didn’t have internal jobs postings that were passed around among friends which had nothing to do with the black hole-corporate ones the general public had access to–once they found them buried dormant next to Jimmy Hoffa’s body

Why We Hate Them
The rightful public backlash we’ve been experiencing has been pointed at the profession itself, instead of these unfortunate souls that are the ones who locked out dissent and people from different social economic classes who could not afford to work for free as interns in media centers like New York, Washington and Los Angeles during their summers off from college in order to attempt to secure a job at a network. This was the only meritocratic-like way into a network for the most part of a generation(and we’re leaving out all the fucking and sexual harassing during the ‘golden era of tv news’ going on behind the scenes and at midtown walkups at lunch time in the 70s/80s for another article) – and leaves out most of America – ones not only could not afford to live in Manhattan without getting paid, but of who also could not afford to take a summer off anyplace USA without getting paid. If the people working there don’t reflect America, how can their reporting?

My So-called Story
dpbgmaI got my first job in the national media through 9 months of ‘turning and spinning’ as I called it. I had a masters from Northwestern, affiliate experience running assignment desks, editing and producing shows in two markets in the midwest, field reporting experience in Montana and an international stint producing at a national net in Australia, but was just hoping for a desk job at some national place answering the phone. I got it by calling up any name I could get–interviewing with them, asking for names of other people I could talk to and then telling those people that the others had suggested I talk with them–‘turning and spinning'(its also a good technique for getting good sources sometimes, but not others).

After 9 months, one Iraq war and four networks(I wouldn’t call fox), people began asking each other who is Beckmann? He was being recommended by everyone–who’s he related to?–Heck I even had the pleasure of being insulted by Mike Wallace when I asked him for job: “I can’t get you a job!”–said Mike. I said if you can’t than I’m hopeless. He said with a polo shirt like that you don’t need one. I asked him if he ever heard of T. J. Maxx? Even THAT, didn’t get me the job.

It wasn’t till I got to the office of Merillee Cox, DC Bureau Chief for ABC News–and told her the whole story of ‘turning and spinning’ that she took pity on me and about two months later, out of the blue, I got a freelance job earning $125 a shift working the overnight weekends at ABC News Radio in New York. I was literally on the way to UPS when I got the call–and if you know me, it may have done me some good to lift a few boxes in my day.

Sean Hannity: Still a Big Douche

Almost everyone else who gets a job starting out ‘knows someone’ or is connected to something of privilege. Again, most of America isn’t connected to privilege, and people with privilege often aren’t inspired to in the same ways to break barriers and make the changes that are required in getting something started on your own with the lint you’ve got in your pockets. At the end of the day, it doesn’t reflect our country–its not a “liberal” or “conservative” thing, its a how they got there, how they continue to stay and what are they rewarded for sorta thing (so shut the fuck up Hannity–who are YOU related to?–no, honestly that guy actually had some crazy merit, but I don’t know if I can say the same thing for his producers).

Welcome to the Days of Merit

Now that we know the way it WAS–lets talk about how it’s gonna be. We here at Schmooru have seen a positive light here recently that’s starting to peak in through the dusty blinds of mainstream newsrooms and bunkers that for so long have reeked of Uncle Walt’s stale perfume- and we view many of these properties still salvageable.

At the base, if you look at schmooru–we are a meritocratic way of getting people into the media who got there solely on the basis of their hard work and creative umph. We understand the argument of news people being too busy to read through all the resumes–that’s why we spent the last two PLUS years finding the best people already so you don’t have to. People rise in prominence in Schmooru through the work they do here and the more work they put into this thing, there is a direct correlation to the rewards they achieve.

We see a News Management now a days who is less threatened by considering other options, and potentially meritocratic ones — because they frankly have no other choice. The end is near — they’ve seen so many of their contemporaries laid off — and to be quite candid, their salaries have all been so large for so long that the cheaper, hungry folks would still be happy to come in and work for a discount and cutting costs of those beneath them, just might save what’s left of their own jobs and that all has merit.

“TV” Dies at Washington Area Caribou, Film at 11
I had coffee at Caribou recently with a fellow who worked directly under Uncle Walt at the CBS Evening News–he was the only manager when I worked at ABC News who took the time 6 years ago to read my business plan for what would eventually become schmooru. At that Caribou, he pronounced that “TV WAS DEAD.” Its ironic that Uncle Walt died later that week.

We will miss you Uncle Walt–your period and its baby boomers that it was connected to will be studied for the rest of time–assuming we all can work hard enough to pay off all the debts you guys piled up at the Tavern on the Green and just about every place else during your time at the helm. It was a crazy period and there was a lot reported on it from a very small number of sources by the people who were directly involved. That’s the way it isn’t anymore and even though we don’t have Uncle Walt to break it to us–nation, its going to be ok.

-D.P.B., Brooklyn 07.22.09

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4 Responses to “You Hate Journalism? It WAS the Hiring Practice…Stupid.”

  1. lee says:

    political blogs are so cynical

  2. I liked the article. As an aspiring journalist it gives me hope that the established well to do’s in the business are finally realizing that they need people “below them” to make it. The digital revolution will take its toll on those old timers and some won’t make it, hell I may not make it, but it is nice to see someone pulling the covers. Thanks!

  3. […] You Hate Journalism? It WAS the Hiring Practice…Stupid. – Good article on how bad media became bad… […]

  4. Daniel Doyle says:

    You make good points. I’d like to edit your copy though.